San Antonio La Paz, Guatemala
Coffee grower Herlindo Reinoso can walk circles around me.
His coffee: caturra/catuai grown at 5,500 ft. This full bodied coffee has the flavor of warm cinnamon, molasses, earthy spices and raw honey.
I pride myself on exercise, and I thought hikes on Herlindo’s coffee farm in San Antonio la Paz, in south central Guatemala, would be easy. But a couple of times as we climbed mountains to look over his coffee farm, the 67-year-old widower, who moved like a jack rabbit up the mountain, was sitting on a tree stump waiting for me to catch up. (Herlindo’s demeanor is usually all business, but in this photo I think he was laughing at me for taking another break. In my defense, we were at 5,600 feet and I’m not used to that altitude!)
Herlindo doesn’t have a long lineage of coffee. In fact, he is the first in his family to grow coffee. Prior to becoming a coffee farmer, he lived in Guatemala City, where he worked in the auto parts industry. Many of the cars and trucks in Guatemala came originally from the U.S., and people like Herlindo take really good care of them. When I asked about his hobbies, his poker face softened and a smile lit up the room. (You can really find out about people with that question.) He told me he restores and modifies rusty old pickup trucks, and I could tell by his rough-looking hands that he loves it.
Ever since Herlindo was a kid, he was fascinated with coffee. Twenty-one years ago, he wanted to get away from the all the hustle and bustle of the big city and try growing coffee. (His story reminded me of the TV show “Green Acres,” which might show my age.)
Shortly after buying his 51-acre farm, where chickens and cattle were raised, Herlindo’s wife passed away. He didn’t have the luxury of children at home who could help him. His three kids – two daughters and a son in their 40s – were grown and had families of their own. Determined to keep going, he immersed himself in learning to grow coffee. Slowly he changed the livestock farm over to a coffee farm.
Herlindo’s farm is lush and green, with shade all over the place, which is important in growing coffee. When he started planting 20 years ago, he wasn’t knowledgeable about how to do it, so his six or seven species of coffee are scattered around the farm. When picking, the workers have to know – by the color – the right ripeness as well as the right species. The result? The taste of his coffee is incredible. Herlindo is a hard-working and lucky individual to be a first-generation farmer and to get the results that he’s getting with his product.
Now after two decades, Herlindo’s farm is changing once again. He needs to accommodate a washing station to remove the coffee seeds from the skin and fruit and dry out the seeds to prepare them for hulling and export. He also needs a patio for drying the beans.
Having his own washing station will ensure quality control, which is important to Herlindo and important to me. I’ve heard numerous stories of farmers dropping off their crop at a local washing station, only to have their crop switched with a sub-par bean. I want to know what I have purchased, because this affects the end result: the Sozo coffee I am producing. With his own washing station, Herlindo can assure me that it is his coffee that is going to Michigan.
The coffee industry is a fascinating game of trust. Herlindo has to trust me and I have to trust him. I’m working hard to establish a true relationship with farmers like Herlindo who grow Sozo coffee, not with a middle man – in Guatemala what they call a coyote – who cares about the money to be made more than the quality of the product. Herlindo is a proud person, and I hope that through building our relationship he will be open and receptive to our assistance, which over time will make him less reliant on coyotes.
I admire Herlindo’s determination, perseverance and commitment to quality. He has an excellent product and he wants to be sure he gets his beans into the right hands. I’m sure you will taste the difference.